Vol. XVIII, #3 Richard Powers / Rikki Ducornet
Review of Contemporary Fiction
The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto, by Mario Vargas Llosa; Temptation of the World: The Novels of Mario Vargas Llosa, by Efraín Kristal
reviewed by David William Foster
Trans. Edith Grossman. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998. 259 pp. $23.00; Vanderbilt Univ. Press, 1998. 256 pp. $34.95.
Kristal points out in his fine study that Vargas Llosa’s recent writing, including Notebooks, is concerned with “the importance of imagination and fantasy in curbing those irrational elements that can endanger social coexistence,” that it, I assume, is better to create cultural texts of enormous erotic depth rather than to seek to pursue an erotic program with other bodies, certainly a reendorsement in favor of the latter of eros versus civilization. However, the value of Kristal’s comment is, as he goes on to demonstrate in this finely nuanced examination of Vargas Llosa’s literary output, that the project of containment in Notebooks fails and the irrationality that underpins the pursuit of eroticism cannot ultimately be contained by literature or any other form of sublimation. This may end up effectively challenging the popular image of Vargas Llosa as the 1960s committed-writer-gone-reactionary. But that depends on whether one wants to see this investment in the “inevitability of irrational propensities” as stridently challenging bourgeois decency and order and the authoritarianism they require or as doing little more than entertaining pessimistic, and therefore potentially quite dangerous, male fantasies.